Ever since the yearly cycle of Torah readings was standardised towards the end of the Second Temple era, and the fixed calendar as calculated by Hillel II (Hillel ben Yehudah, Nasi or head of the Sanhedrin) was adopted in 4119 (359 C.E.), Parashat D’varim invariably falls on the Shabbat of the Nine Days of mourning for our lost Land and destroyed Holy Temple.

That is to say, we invariably begin to read the final Book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, on the Shabbat which immediately precedes the fast of the ninth of Av.

Moshe is 120 years old. He has dedicated his entire life to the Children of Israel. Even when he was but a stripling of a lad, an Egyptian prince living in the opulence of Pharaoh’s palace, he gave it all up by killing the Egyptian slave-driver who was whipping the Jewish slave.

And then, at age 80 years, after spending decades in exile as a humble shepherd, he returned to Egypt and became leader of the Jewish nation, leading them out of Egyptian slavery, through the desert, and to the very threshold of the Land of Israel.

This is where we find him as Parashat Devarim opens.

For forty years, Moshe Rabbeinu (“our Master”) has been G-d’s faithful Scribe, loyally writing all He told him to, word-for-word.

And now, after all these decades, in Moshe’s final weeks in in this world, G-d hands him the microphone, so to speak; for the first time, Moshe will speak with his own voice, speaking his own words rather than saying what G-d dictates to him.

“In Trans-Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moshe began to expound upon this Torah” (Deuteronomy 1:5).

For forty years Moshe had transmitted G-d’s Torah to his beloved nation, and now he began to explain it to them. Given this situation, how does Moshe begin his discourse? What are his very first words of explanation? How does he begin to teach Torah to the Jews?

What would we have expected Moshe’s very first words of explanation of the Torah to have been? Maybe, remember the Exodus? Remember the ten plagues? Remember when G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai? Keep Shabbat? Keep kashrut? Tzniyut? Pray three times a day?

– No. He began his discourse with leaving Mount Sinai:

“Hashem our G-d spoke to us in Horeb [Mount Sinai] saying: You’ve dwelt long enough at this mountain! Turn and get yourselves travelling, and come to the Amorite Mountain and all its environs, in the plain, in the mountain, and in the lowland and in the Negev [the dry, desert southland] and the sea-shore, the land of the Canaanite and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the River Euphrates. Behold! – I have given the Land before you: Come and inherit the Land which Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob to give them and to their descendants after them” (vs. 6-8).


He began by reminding the Jewish nation of when they left Mount Sinai in order to come to Israel! For Moshe Rabbeinu, this is the beginning of the Torah, the foundation of the Torah, the basis to understanding the Torah.

This is how “Moshe began to expound upon this Torah”.

Thousands of years later, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), universally known by his acronym Rashi, wrote the single most important commentary ever on the Torah.

How does Rashi begin his commentary? How does Rashi, “the Father of the Commentators”, begin his discourse? What are his very first words of explanation? How does he begin to teach Torah to the Jews?

He asks why the Torah begins with the words, “In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The Torah is primarily a Book of Commandments, says Rashi, so we would have expected it should to begin with the Commandment to calibrate our own calendar (Exodus 12:2), which is the first national mitzvah.

So why does it open with “In the beginning”?

– To show His mastery over the world, to justify why He decides which nation gets which piece of land, “to give them [Israel] the inheritance of nations” (Psalms 111:6).

And why is this necessary?

– “So if the nations of the world should say to Israel: You are thieves because you conquered the country of the seven [Canaanite] nations! – they tell them: The entire world belongs to G-d! He created it and gave it to whomever He saw fit. By His will He gave it to them, and by His will He took it from them and gave it to us”.

Rashi’s first-ever comment on the entire Torah is not the importance of keeping Shabbat, or kashrut, or tzniyut, or celebrating the Festivals; it is not even to recognise and believe the truth of the Torah, or the existence of G-d, or any of the other fundamental principles of Jewish faith.

It is, instead,, to justify our claim to the Land of Israel. Our claim to our Land is that the entire world belongs to G-d Who created it all, He decides which nation gets which portion of His world, and He decreed that the nation of Israel gets the Land of Israel.

Just as Moshe Rabbeinu began expounding on the Torah by reminding us of our trek to the Land of Israel, so too Rashi began elucidating the Torah with our right to the Land of Israel.

Each of the three sections of the Tanach – Torah, Nevi’im (the Prophets), and Ketuvim (the Holy Writings) – begins and ends with the Land of Israel:

-The Torah, as we have seen, begins with the Creation in order to found our claim to the Land of Israel. And it concludes with the nation of Israel encamped in Trans-Jordan, opposite Jericho, about to cross the River Jordan into Israel.

-The second section, Nevi’im, begins with the Book of Joshua, which picks up where the Torah left off: Joshua, Moshe’s successor, leading us across the River Jordan into Israel, our conquest of our country, the beginning of our national history as an independent nation, sovereign in our Land.

And it concludes with the final prophecy ever, the Prophet Malachi’s final words:

“Remember the Torah of My servant Moshe…behold I send you Eliyahu [Elijah] the Prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome Day of Hashem; and he will return the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers – lest I come and smite the Land with destruction” (Malachi 3:22-24).

Thus concludes the second section, Nevi’im – the prophecy and promise of our return to the Land of Israel in the final days: in what was for Malachi the distant future, and what for us is current reality.

The final section, Ketuvim, in almost all our printed Bibles today, begins with the Book of Psalms. But this is actually not the original order: as the Talmud (Bava Batra 14b) records, “the order of the Ketuvim is Ruth, then the Book of Psalms…”.

Hence Ketuvim, too, begins with the Land of Israel: the Book of Ruth chronicles how a leader of Israel, Elimelech, and his wife Naomi with their sons Mahlon and Chilion, left Israel for the fields of Moab because of famine – and the tragedies that befell the family as a result of leaving Israel; and how Ruth the Moabitess princess achieved her destiny by coming to Israel, where she eventually became the ancestress of the Mashiach.

The section of Ketuvim concludes with the Book of Chronicles, which ends with the Jews’ return to Israel from Babylon and Persia at the end of the second exile:

“And in the first year of Koresh [Cyrus] King of Persia, when Hashem’s prophecy spoken by Jeremiah was completed, Hashem inspired Koresh, King of Persia, to announce throughout his kingdom – also in writing – to say: Thus says Koresh, King of Persia: Hashem, G-d of the Heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has commanded me to build Him a Temple in Jerusalem which is in Judea. Anyone among you of all His nation – Hashem his G-d will be with him when he goes up!” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

So each of the three sections of the Bible – Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim – begins and ends with the Land of Israel.

Both Moshe and Rashi began their elucidations of the Torah with the Land of Israel. The Book of Deuteronomy is replete with Moshe’s pleadings before G-d to be allowed to enter the good Land which He had promised His people, the Land of Israel; it is replete with Moshe’s yearning for the Land, and his tearful regret at not being allowed in.

The Book concludes with Moshe leaving his beloved people behind, the people who he had lovingly shepherded for forty years, and ascending from the plains of Moab into Mount Nevo, the mountain-range in trans-Jordan, from there gazing longingly into the Land that he would never enter.

The Torah finishes with this heart-rending image of G-d showing Moshe “the entire Land: the Gilead as far as Dan, and all Naftali, and the land of Ephraim and Menashe, and all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea [the Mediterranean], and the Negev [the desert southland], and the Plain – the Valley of Jericho, the city of date-palms – as far as Tzoar” (Deuteronomy 34:1-3).

It is of course no idle happenstance that our Sages calibrated the annual Torah-reading such that we would read Parashat Devarim during the Nine Days: it is precisely at this juncture of the year that we feel the loss of our Land, the destruction of our Holy Temple, the obliteration of our national sovereign independence, more keenly than at any other time of the year.

It is precisely on this Shabbat that the Torah infuses us not only with the yearning for the Land of Israel. It also tells us – veritably cries to us: The Land of Israel is the beginning and the end of Judaism!

Without the Land of Israel there is no Judaism, and without Judaism there is no Land of Israel.

Daniel Pinneris a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.